Carmen review

This review is for the Opera :

Related Opera Company :
Hampstead Garden Opera

Venue :
Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Event Description:
Event Date : 21/11/2003

There is a certain boldness in a small company’s decision to produce grand opera, but the results are often disastrous: the spectacular side that dominates the concept of such works is a real challenge for groups with limited resources, performing in small venues, and more often than not the attempts reinforce the negative nuances of the word ‘amateur’.

Carmen, one of the most popular works of music theatre of all times, is the case in point: girl fights, toreadors, soldiers in the plaza, smugglers in the mountains, together with an exuberantly rich score and very demanding vocal parts make it a favourite to this kind of treatment.

It was therefore a real surprise to sit through Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Bizet’s masterpiece, because for once the boldness paid off.

The producer, Laura Baggaley, decided to concentrate on the physicality of the action, and with the help of movement director Yael Loewenstein managed to define space through choreography.

Simon Kenny’s simple set became a canvas on which the characters themselves painted the settings, helped to this end by Nina Morris’ effective costumes.

One cannot talk of minimalist production, but rather of intelligent use of limited resources, and the production team needs to be credited with the ability of obtaining very convincing physical performances from the whole cast.

There were good vocal performances too: Anita Reynell was a bold and sensuous Carmen, her lyric mezzo not strained in the more demanding second half of the work.

Matt Connolly was at ease in Don José's tessitura, the top notes produced with ease and clarity, and he gave a convincing portrait of the young soldier led astray by his passion.

Beatrice Danesfield was a vocally accomplished Micaela, her luscious tone consistent over the whole range, defining through intelligent phrasing a more rounded character than the damsel in distress we are usually acquainted with.

Steven Lopez managed effectively the torturous demands of the part of Escamillo, creating a character both seductive and dangerous, a real counterpart for Carmen.

There were also lively performances from Gabrielle Highman and Fredi Teale as Mercedes and Frasquita, and from Will O’Brien and Mike Severyn as Morales and Zuniga. The whole company deserves praise for a committed and energetic performance.

Of course, when it comes to the music, a small ensemble can hardly render justice to Bizet’s colourful and sophisticated orchestration, but the orchestra of twelve soloists under the direction of Michael Newton still managed a distinctive and lively performance, and nobody in the audience complained for the lack of a sixth desk of violins.

This Carmen was a real achievement for Hampsted Garden Opera, one which not even the recent successful production of Il Trittico and The Tales of Hoffmann could have forebode, and it certainly constitutes a very good omen for their future productions.


Photos: Keith Martin, Lynn Houghton, David Rose, Ian Thomas; Steven Lopez; Beatrice Danesfield; Anita Reynell and Matt Connolly.

Joel Taylor in THE ISLINGTON TRIBUNE of November 28:

'Everyone leaving Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre at the weekend must have left with a spring in their step humming their favourite aria from Carmen.

For the Hampstead Garden Opera are currently performing Bizet's famous opera, one of the most eminently hummable in the opera canon. And the HGO's production is delightful.

Opera is famously expensive to stage, requiring large numbers of singers and a substantial orchestra, but despite being an amateur company, the HGO, accompanied by the Hampstead Garden Orchestra, have put together a charming show.

The story of Carmen is famous. Carmen is a free-spirited gypsy girl working in a tobacco factory in Seville who seduces then spurns a young officer, Don Jose.

Driven mad with jealousy by Carmen's taunts and frequent dalliances with toreador Escamillo, he stabs and murders her before being dragged away to the cells.

Anita Reynell excels as Carmen. The role gets all the best songs and Reynell has a beautiful, crisp soprano, and is able to add that element of the vixen that is required for a true Carmen.

Beatrice Danesfield is also excellent as Micaela, Don Jose's childhood sweetheart, conveying the tragedy and vulnerability of her position.

The men are slightly weaker, with Matt Connolly struggling on Don Jose's low notes, but on the higher notes his voice is strong and powerful.

The chorus filled the space of the theatre with ease and the whole group were terrifically supported by the eleven-piece orchestra.

It is no use for such a small group to try and emulate the sound of an orchestra in full flow, but this little chamber ensemble were very together and added extra nuances to Bizet's music.

And what a packed house. Arrive early to be sure of tickets.'

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